For twelve hours I knew exactly what I was.

I knew what that thing had been, and what I had done, and that I was one of the only people in the world who could have done it. I knew.

The seconds that its touch had taken me into its world of noise and pain and hate were, thankfully, beyond what I could clearly remember.   Such an important survival trait; the ability to forget that kind of pain.   Like the pain of childbirth (I imagine) or the pain of touching that thing (I know).   If we were able to really remember we wouldn't be able to go on, wouldn't be able to keep having babies, wouldn't be able to function.

Twelve hours of knowing .   I think that's all I'm ever going to get.

Because at right around the twelve hour mark, as I was crossing from Georgia back into Florida, almost to I10, the clear burning memory of the pain and the hate and even the white morning sun on its body lying in the shallow water started to fade.   Just a little.

And it kept fading, slowly, as it has to; because if it didn't I would have curled up into a little ball and rocked myself sweetly to a life where none of this had ever happened.   But as the perfect memory left me, so did the perfect knowing; the confirmation.

At some point I started to wonder if I was remembering things correctly; then the suicide spiral of all the thoughts that came faster than I could keep up with.

Killer.

Murderer.

Psychopath.

Me.

Not the thing I'd stopped. Not the man sitting on the rock in the sun. Not the guy who had unaccountably torn his wife apart and then gone to bask in the morning light exactly where I knew he would be. Not the unknowable thing that dropped like a slaughtered cow from a little stab in the arm from a piece of metal that once belonged to a myth.

Me. Just me.

Stolen off the street in Tel Aviv, punched in the gut and thrown into a van by the nicest, scariest person I've ever known.

Jade.

The thought of him broke the loop, and I knew I had to see him.

§

In my memory I can somehow see him even before he hits me.   Walking silently up behind me in perfect time with the passing van.   Maybe I saw that the door was open, but it didn't matter because at that exact moment he stepped up even with me and drove two knuckles into my solar plexus, using my forward momentum to push me into the van.   I definitely saw him cable-tie my wrists and ankles while I was still gasping.   Then, just as I was getting enough breath back to start to be really scared, he bent over so I could see him and he smiled a real smile and said, "Sorry about that."

I don't think it's a trick of my memory that I wasn't terrified then, on the floor of the van; and if I wasn't it's because he looked so normal. And calm. And happy.

The rest of that day was just what it was; a small white room, a folding table, Kari telling me the story, Jade sitting on the floor behind me near the door.   I believed the story completely that day, and I believed it for the next two years in the forest, and I even believed it, to some degree, in the years that followed - until yesterday.   Then, when I killed the aave, I knew it.

Now I don't know.

§

I can sum up a lot about Jade by describing the scene as I pulled into his driveway. He has a nice house in a nice neighborhood, not too far from where I live.

After the forest, I enrolled at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota. Right after graduation I landed a half-freelance, half-staff position at a graphic design place in Tampa.   I'd been in occasional contact with Kari and he didn't say anything when I mentioned that I was moving there.   It wasn't until I was settled into my little house that I found out that Jade lived just across town.

It was late afternoon when I got there and he was out front washing his new car.   His two little girls were playing in the front yard, jumping around in the spray from the hose.   They are beautiful girls; both are blond and blue-eyed and fair.   I think they are eleven and seven, but Emma, the older one, could be twelve now. Jade says they look a lot like he did before he was Emma's age, except for the blue eyes, of course.

Now Jade has brown hair that he always keeps very short, and that's about the only thing about him that is even close to distinctive enough to mention. He is average in almost every way.   The kind of average that people pass in the street and never turn around to get another look at; plain, maybe pleasant.   He moves like we all do, though; a little too much grace for an American man, but that probably doesn't get noticed too often.   And his face and hands can be very animated - sometimes.

He was singing along to a clunky old CD player as he washed the car - something that sounded old, like from the 50's or 60's, but it had been remixed with some sort of trance beat.

"Who's this?" I asked.

"Well, Shirley Bassey's singing.   Some French DJ did the mix, I think."

"Who's Shirley Bassey?"

He actually stopped and gave me one of his looks, the one that looks like he is trying to figure out if you are really that odd or if he heard you wrong.   "Come on, Daniel." he pronounced it like the boys name.   He often calls me Daniel.   And I've heard him refer to Andi as Andrew. I'm not sure why.   "She's the only singer to record three James Bond themes.   And I hear she worked with Shirley Manson on the one Garbage did."

Jade is one of those people who knows a fair amount about a surprising range of things; but he is one of the few people like that who realizes you probably don't care at all about 99% of it.   I get the feeling he likes to tease me about pop culture stuff that's before my time.   Before his time too, for that matter.

It's often that way; no greetings, no preamble, just picking up where we left off last time.

The girls ran over and hugged my legs and I told them how big they were getting, which they are - Emma will probably end up being taller than Jade. I was telling Sarah, the younger one, how much I liked her pig tails when Jade's wife came out of the house and into the garage and waved "Hi".   Kat is a lovely woman, and even though I know better than anyone else that there is absolutely nothing but friendship between Jade and me, I always wonder how she knows it too.   But she does.   I guess that's a particular kind of love.

There is nothing in the world so calming as being around very happy people; people who seem to be completely lacking in the usual baggage that everyone has, a family that actually functions the way you think a family should.   Jade's little family is like that. It's the strangest thing I've ever seen.

Being there with him then, his family, the soapy car, I was able to think again.   To breathe without it catching in the back of my throat.

Jade and I had worked out a while back that mentioning anything about Helsinki in an otherwise casual conversation would be a sign that we needed to get away and talk.   I worked it into the small talk by asking if they had seen the special about Helsinki on the History Channel.   Within a minute he had steered the conversation to where he could bring up a real project we had worked on in the past, stating that he had some new ideas and asking Kat if she minded if we went off for awhile to discuss it over coffee.   She quieted the girls over their yells of "we want to go too" and Jade and I left in his new car.

So I am part of the lie that is such a large part of Jade's life.   The lie that is so out off place in the middle of his perfect little world.

"He sent me a confirmation," I said.

"I know," he said.   "If I look at you out of the corner of my eye I can see you shaking.   Are you OK?"

"No."

"Can you wait a couple minutes?"

"Yeah.   I've waited two hours already without completely losing it.   I can wait.   Why?   We can talk here."

"I'm taking you somewhere special," he said. "Somewhere special to me.   You seemed like you were handling it alright back there."

"I like your family. They make me feel better."

"Yeah, me too."

It was only about a 20 minute drive.   I looked out the window most of the way, and Jade hummed along to some CD he had burned from old songs from the 80's.   Before my time.   He pulled into the parking lot of a little public park on the bay.   It looked like it was mainly a municipal boat ramp, but there were about two acres worth of trees and some little trails.

"Come on," Jade said, leaving the car and walking straight to the thicket.   "If we're going to talk about this stuff I want to do it someplace I like."   I followed him into the tiny wood. The trail climbed up just a little and I figured this was an old Seminole Indian mound and that that was the only reason it hadn't been leveled for a condo long ago.   I doubted even that would save it for much longer.   A huge old live oak grew from the very top of the mound and Jade didn't break stride before starting to climb.

It's a big tree, but it isn't an easy one to climb; almost no knots or holes, no limbs to brace on until a good 12 feet up the trunk.   Hard, but not impossible if you know a couple tricks.   Jade obviously did, so I just followed him.   He didn't even think about it, just scurried up like he came here every day.   Maybe he does.   Up in the canopy there is plenty of branching; he swung over and along a strong limb and ended up straddling a big branch with another at his back.   There wasn't room for me there, but there was a similar setup just below where he sat.

He was right, it was a wonderful place.   It's late spring, so the leaves are full and fresh and hundreds of shades of green.   Their murmur in the breeze almost completely covered the sound of the cars passing, not 200 yards away.

I looked up at him. He could have been asleep; eyes closed, head back against the trunk, that troubling little smile he smiles so often.   Then, without really moving at all, he said, "when I was little I knew a kid named Freddy Anderson.   His grandfather owned that big house over there."

"What big house?"

"You can't see it this time of year.   Leaves are too thick.   But there's a big old house over there and a sort of aviary.   He kept all sorts of birds for some reason.   Lots of peacocks.   One evening, I was about your age, a little younger, I had had a long workout here, running up and down the mound.   I climbed up here afterwards and was having very serious thoughts about my life and my family and everything that was going on, and I looked over there," he pointed at a smaller limb about 4 feet away, "right there, was a big, beautiful guy. Just glowing like sapphires and emeralds, his tail feathers folded up and hanging down behind him.   Staring at me like 'what are you doing in my tree?'.   Then he screams his peacock scream and I swear it sounded just like a banshee."

I winced.

"I should say he sounded like what that metaphor means to say. I hadn't actually heard a banshee at that point."

"How can you do that?" I snapped.   "How can you talk about this like it's a peacock sitting in a tree?   I swear, every time I start to think you might not be crazy, just normal like me in this ridiculous situation, you say something like that and I can't stand it."

He was very serious when he said, "You're going to have to learn to deal with this." Then he stopped and just breathed for awhile. "So, anyway, I talked to him, the peacock, instead of to myself.   Turned out to be a Clarifying Experience.   I have a pretty good memory of images of that evening, but I have a perfect memory of the feeling of being up here and working through it all."

I was about to ask HOW?   How do you work through it all sitting in the top of an oak tree talking to a peacock?   But he kept talking, eyes still closed.

"You're the only person who has ever been up here with me."

"What about Feyn?   What about when you were a kid?"

"You may not have noticed, but Feyn doesn't really have much use for me. Not on a social level, anyway.   Although I'm sure I'm nice to have around when there's a map to be read." He smiled bigger and in my head I saw images of me, less than 24 hours before, moving through a silver tinted forest in the middle of the night.   A forest I had never been in before, but I followed a path in my head that took me directly to - .

"I never climbed this tree until the first time I came back here after the forest.   I'm sure that I had friends that did, when I was a kid, but I was a very cautious child.   I used to swing on a rope that was tied to that limb, though.   See the groove from the rope?   I always loved that."

"I have a hard time thinking of you as a cautious child."

"Oh, I was.   Very cautious.   Very afraid."

That struck me as one of the strangest things I'd ever heard Jade say.   "Afraid of what?"

He thought for a bit, "I think of not being perfect.   And cautious because if you are very careful not to do anything that you may not be able to do, then you never have to worry about not being able to do it."

He opened his eyes then, and sat up a bit.   "If there is one thing that I've learned from Kari, and all this, it's that I know exactly what I am now - even if that is something different from what he says I am."

"And what's that."

"Just a man.   Just a normal guy who does some very odd things - and gets away with it. The funny thing is that the true strangeness of it all is not in the weird stuff that we do, it's that I do them completely outside of any legitimizing context. That's the part that makes you think I'm crazy."

"I don't think you're crazy," I said - and it hurt; for the lie and for knowing that he knew the truth.

"Yes you do," he said. "And from your perspective, knowing what we do, what you just did, and knowing that I don't 'believe', I am crazy.   And worse, I'm a crazy murderer. And worse still, if I'm right then so are you.   Actually, I guess from your perspective you wouldn't be a crazy murderer. Just a murderer."   He leaned back against the tree again and closed his eyes. "It's a little strange that we never had this conversation until now, but I guess we couldn't really, without you having gone through it.   Even so, I've wondered why you're so afraid of me.   Or for me.   Do you know?"

"I'm not afraid of you."

"Look, Danii, I don't know how this is going to work out in the long run, but you have no chance at all if you aren't willing to try really hard to deal with this honestly. And right now the last thing you should be worried about is hurting my feelings.   I think I'm starting to understand that you've mistaken the fact that I don't buy into his worldview for denial that we are in the midst of a very odd situation. Is that it?"

"Yes." I said. "I think so." The words came slowly, but eventually they came. "If you don't believe it, about what Kari is and what we are and, more importantly, why we are, then that makes me think that you just like killing things, and that you like fighting, and that you like abducting people. The only thing I'm pretty sure you don't like is lying to your family; but the rest of it really does scare me because it's not right for a person to like all those things, to really relish doing them the way I think you do, and to still be so damn normal."

"Well, you got the part about the girls right," he paused again, "and I guess you're not too far off on the rest of it either - so I'm not sure what to tell you, other than I'm not crazy."

I smiled a little then, because it's pretty common for crazy people to tell you they're not.   He got it, and smiled back.   It didn't help.

"You're not under the impression that I don't find any of this odd, are you?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I may not believe the story, but I know that we are all caught up in something abnormal.   I know that we hear things other people don't.   I know that we feel things and pick up on things for no apparent reason.   I know that when we fight certain things with our silly little knives something inexplicable happens. If I refused to accept those facts then I probably would be crazy.   But I do accept them.   I simply acknowledge that I have no idea why. And I guess it's no secret that I don't care; because being in the middle of all this oddness allows me to do things that I suppose I'm just wired to do."

"Did you ever believe it?"

"Yes, for awhile, as much as I'm able to believe anything like that."

"Like what?" I said.

"Oh, stories that try to explain things we don't understand."

Then I laughed, because I remembered that Kari had said something very much like that in the forest the first time he ever talked about the why's and the how's.

"What's so funny?" Jade asked.

"Kari said almost the same thing to me once."

"Really? I've never heard him say that one. Kind of surprises me."

"Do you think he's crazy?"

"You sure are hung up on people being crazy."

"Because that's what I'm so afraid of; that this is all fantasy, maybe even you and me sitting in this tree. That I can't trust my senses. Or myself.   That I've lost a huge chunk of my life and done this horrible thing because of a story that apparently no one even believes. Stories don't do this to people."

He looked me straight in the eye, then, in exactly the same way that I've seen him look at his older daughter when he can't decide if she has lost her marbles or is just trying to get a rise out of him. "Are you serious?" Complete disbelief. "Is that what this is about?   You're afraid you've done a terrible thing for no better reason than believing in a story?   Come on. I know you're tired and scared, but really, come on.   What about 'In the beginning...'?   Think many lives have been changed by that one?   Do you think many people have died because someone believed that story?   Don't for a minute think that is any less a 'story' just because a huge chunk of the world still believes it.   And it doesn't matter in the least whether or not it's true.   Just like Kari's story.   The difference between you and most Christians or Jews or Moslems is that you really, truly feel something. You feel Autumn; not as an abstract concept or the words of some big-haired guy on TV, but as a real thing. I have to assume you felt that thing ."

"Yes, I felt it. It touched me. A couple times, thank God."

"Why 'thank God'?"

"Because I did feel it, every black bit of it. I can still remember it enough to know it really happened. And that it did feel that bad, and that maybe it really was something - ," I just didn't have the words for it, " - something other than just a guy sitting on a rock."

"Just a guy with his hand around your throat."

I looked up at him. "How'd you know that?"

"Couple of little bruises on the side of your neck."

"Yeah," I couldn't say anything more for a couple seconds. "I got really, really lucky. He knocked Piiska out of my hand right away. I completely forgot about Sääksi until he had me. I was almost gone and all of the sudden I felt like I was out of my body. I could see what was happening, but I was 'seeing' in music. Has that ever happened to you?"

Jade looked at me very strangely for a long time, but all he said was, "No."

"Well, I saw or heard Sääksi and that made me remember. I just pulled it blindly and stabbed. I barely poked him in the arm and he dropped."

"Yeah, they do."

"How many have you done?"

"'Confirmations'?"

I nodded.

"Five. Three people, all in the states. A wolf in Germany. A cat in Poland."

"What kind of cat?"

"A domestic house cat. That was awful. It was a good-sized cat; tawny with a dark grey face. It had killed two - people, and really hurt several others. Its eyes were the exact same color as ours."

"What about the wolf?"

"I don't want to talk about the wolf right now."

"OK." I figured I'd go ahead and ask. "Does it bother you?"

"No, it doesn't.   These are people and animals that, without exception, have killed other people for no reason at all - and when we find them they immediately try to kill us. The rest of it doesn't matter.   I really doubt there's an evil spirit in them that will just go somewhere else unless we deal with it. Part of me wants to think it's just a neurological defect that causes them to snap, and scream, and head straight to shallow water. But who knows."

"But what about the touch?"

He didn't answer for a long time. "I don't know, Danii. I have no idea.   That only happened once, the first one, but I'll never forget it. I usually tell myself it was some sort of post-hypnotic effect from all the indoctrination in the forest, but I usually don't convince myself on that point."

"What do you mean it only happened once? How did you confirm the other four?"

"I didn't. I don't see the need."

And that sums him up very well.   He doesn't need all the 'stuff' that most of us need in order to make ourselves do things. He doesn't need the 'framework', as I've heard him call it, or an excuse, or even a reason.   He just does things because he wants to. Because he's good at it. Because it's what he's built to do. I'm starting to realize that most people are very threatened by people like Jade. Maybe they should be.

"I need a reason." I said. "I agree, this is very strange, but that by itself isn't enough."

"It could be true."

"What did you say?"

"It could be true. The story. All things considered, it is just as likely to be the truth as any other explanation - because they're all silly. Kari could be a nut, just playing with us, but that doesn't explain some of the other stuff, unless you accept something like my goofy hypnosis theory. But what's the motive. Or it could be a government thing, if you're into conspiracy theories.   Who knows on that kind of thing, the CIA's been proven to do some incredibly stupid stuff.   All I'm saying is that just because I don't need a reason doesn't mean there isn't one.   There definitely is one, and it could be the one we've been told. Or it could be something entirely different.   If I were you, and I needed to know the reason, then I'd try to figure it out."

Clarifying Experience.

I guess sometimes the obvious is just too obvious, and you have to climb a tree and talk to a peacock to see it.

"Will you help me?"

"No," he said. "That's something you have to do yourself. If you end up someplace where you need my kind of help, you know I'll be there. But for the figuring out part, you have to reach your own conclusions. Anything less and you still won't know."

I knew he was right.

"Thank you," I said.

"You're welcome."

"I need to train more."

"I know. Any time."

Then, for the first time in over two days, it hit me. Hard. "I'm really, really tired."

"I bet. Come on, let's get you home. You can start figuring things out tomorrow."

So we left the place that is so special to him, and to me now, too, I guess. I went home and I slept for a long time, and my dreams were only dark, not horrible.

And now I'm about to start figuring this out.